It requires reverse engineering something, in this case, greeting cards. Those new any occasion cards with blank interiors are the best for this.
Here’s the exercise: Go out and buy a handful of greeting cards. Take them home and set them up where you can mentally wander among them.
When you find one that appeals or intrigues, step into the scene and tell yourself about it. You can write this down or not, but it’s always good practice to articulate what you see.
You might tell the story suggested by the card, or write a biographical piece on the characters the card shows. I have to say that LOL cat posters, which you can find online in a variety of places are also good for this exercise.
Huh, is that really a cat????
- Who are the characters in the scene?
- Which one is alien (in whatever way you choose) or magical?
- Where is this character from?
- Why does he/she/it appear in this form?
- What is their relationship to the other characters in the scene?
- Is there anything in the scene that frightens, angers, amuses, or pleases the alien/magical character? What? Why?
- What things do they find familiar?
- What things do they mistakenly think are familiar? Can erroneously thinking these things are familiar be detrimental or dangerous to the alien? Humorous or serendipitous?
Here’s a homely bit of advice: put this stockpile in your bathroom along with a pencil and pad of paper. I sometimes find the bathroom is the only place I can have a few minutes to myself—might as well put them to good use.
The direction your thoughts take and the robustness of what you get out of the exercise will hinge on what questions you come up with to ask. And in the hands of different writers, the results from the same picture can be radically different. In fact, I’ve sometimes written two different scenarios from the same image or idea that went in completely different directions: one dark, one light, one scary, one funny. When I’ve done this, it’s also been educational to go back and see where the path turned and what elements changed the direction of the story was taking.
It all contributes to better craft.